I am a committed Christian, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I believe its doctrine and its history, and its basic premise that Jesus Christ is indeed the savior and redeemer of the world, the creator of the world, and its ultimate judge. I have this imaginary friend, a composite of several people I know who put great stock in the human intellect and value highly the rational mind. He comes up to me and says, “How can you believe that old stuff? You have been to college haven’t you? How can you believe that this Jesus character did all those miracles and even came back from the dead? How can you believe in angels bringing gold plates to an unlettered young man and having him translate them into a dubious ‘scripture,’ who then says he ‘gave the plates back’ so they can’t be seen? Aren’t we so beyond such things these days?”
His skepticism doesn’t bother me because I know where he is coming from. He simply embraces the widespread notion that “Man Is the Measure of All Things,” that man is the yardstick by which all things in this world should be measured, judged, and evaluated. My answer to him is that I believe because many times in many places I have felt the presence of God through the Holy Ghost—among them in church meetings, in personal prayer, in speeches by our church leaders, in scripture reading, or in moments of quiet or reverie. It is by these spiritual assurances that I know that God lives, that Jesus Christ is our Savior, and that Joseph Smith received a prophetic calling from Them to restore the fulness of Their gospel, and that by Their direction and authority he restored Their true church in its fulness. These assurances are the seedbed of my testimony of God, Christ, and Their gospel.
So I tell my imaginary friend that his logic is probably OK but his basic premise is wrong. God, not man, is the measure of all things. God and His Word are the yardstick by which all things are to be measured, judged, and evaluated. Through His word—the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and continuing revelation—God has given us our most accurate view of basic reality, who we as humans are, why this earth was created, what our purpose for living here is, and what our ultimate destiny is and how we may achieve it.
I would also tell my friend that a testimony of God is not to be derived from our common and ordinary everyday living experiences but rather is something extraordinary that comes from higher realms to all peoples who are in a particular frame of mind that includes faith, a penitent spirit, and a righteous desire to know. These extraordinary experiences give the rational mind something else to chew on rather than just the ordinary and common experiences of everyday life. My friend may not be convinced but I hope he remembers these things for a later day when they may become more meaningful.
My life in academe has been considerably enriched by understanding something of God’s great plan of salvation for all peoples who have lived here on the earth. In my studies of people and cultures in various parts of the world, my testimony has helped me bring balance to two modern, seemingly contradictory views of other peoples and cultures. Paraphrasing Lindsay of Birker:
On the one hand people start with the correct assumption that all peoples share a common humanity or human nature but then jump to the false conclusions that the differences between Western and non-Western peoples are superficial, and that Western categories of thought can be used to adequately study, analyze, and describe these cultures. . . . On the other hand people start with the correct assumption that there are profound differences between Western and non-Western societies, but then jump to the false conclusion that non-Westerners are fundamentally different from people of European descent.
Thus, at one end we have the idea of the fundamental and universal unity of human nature versus, at the other end, the incredible variety of modes of thought and expression of that human nature. My understanding of God’s purposes for this earth has helped me bridge this seeming contradiction and develop more empathy for and some ability to see other peoples’ essential humanity, to see them as humans like myself, to know at a fundamental level that every thought, tender feeling, hope, aspiration, sorrow, exultation, or worry which has ever crossed my mind and heart has crossed theirs, to know that their parents have the same hopes and aspirations for their children as ours have for us. For this also I thank God.
Larry V. Shumway is a Professor Emeritus of Humanities and Musicology at Brigham Young University with a BA degree from BYU in Music Education, an MA from Seton Hall University in Asian Studies, and a Ph.D in Ethnomusicology from the University of Washington. Born in 1934, he grew up in St. Johns, Arizona. He came to BYU as a professor in 1974. In his professional life he has taught music in the public schools, taught Japanese language, and done field research in Japan (Shinto ritual music), on American traditional music, and in Tonga (where he was a member of a team which filmed and produced three video documentaries on Tongan national music, culture, and dance). Representative publications in each area are Frontier Fiddler: Life of a Northern Arizona Pioneer, in which he assembled, edited, and annotated the memoirs and fiddle tunes of his grandfather, Kenner C. Kartchner, a prominent early-twentieth-century old-time fiddler as well as fish, game, and wildlife official (1990); “Gagaku in the Provinces: [Japanese] Imperial Court Music at the Ikeda Fief at Bizen [modern Okayama],” in the Asian Music Journal (2001); “Contextualizing The Tale of Genji With Other Arts of Its Golden Period,” in the journal Interdisciplinary Humanities (2003); and “The Tongan Lakalaka: Music Style and Composition,” in Ethnomusicology, the journal of the Society for Ethnomusicology (1981).
At BYU he had a joint appointment in the Department of Humanities, Classics, and Comparative Literature and in the School of Music where he taught courses in Asian Humanities, World Music, and the Cultural History of Japan. He also served variously as Asian Studies Coordinator, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, and chairman of the Department of Humanities, Classics and Comparative Literature. He directed two Study Abroad programs to Japan and served as cultural advisor to the Young Ambassadors and the BYU Folk Dancers on two Asian tours. He is also an old-time fiddler, preserving a five-generation family tradition. He is married to Sandra Leece of Dundee, Scotland, and has six children, four of them fiddlers like himself. He also has two granddaughters.
Posted December 2010